Derek Johnson Muses

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Monthly Archives: August 2013

Age Without Distinction

Earlier this year, I was jarred a bit when I ran into an acquaintance from growing up who was three grades behind me. This person still appeared very young to me even though said person is now twenty-seven. I felt a gap between myself and this person that I don’t feel between myself and the college students at church, because it was a person I knew from growing up.

I am turning thirty in October, but I don’t freak out about my age, or really have any opinion on it. I feel like I should come up with something to write on the subject, such as what the last decade has meant to me, or what being older signifies to me, but honestly, I can’t think of anything. To me, time just passes the way it passes, which thankfully is out of my control.

I’m grateful for my years and have enjoyed my twenties, but I do wish I had a certain significance to become a thirty year-old man. When I’m at church, or hanging out with my gaming friends who are younger than me, it’s as if we are who we are, without distinction. Man, I can be nonobservant.

Perhaps it’s just the loss of family and community that offer clear distinction and roles to people instead of just a “be anything that you want to be” attitude. Maybe if I had married young and had two kids following me around I would feel differently, and I’d certainly have a lot more experience. I haven’t really done a lot in my life, except take the work that was right in front of me, and read and write a lot.

In What to Expect When No One’s Expecting, Jonathan V. Last writes about countries that have “youth bulges” of males (currently a problem in Iran), and how it causes political instability when the young men can’t find wives or work. (In a way, such countries go to war to keep the young men from rebelling against their own government.) I see this first hand in my own life, how being without a wife and children has taken its tool on me. I do blame the world (and feminism) for some of it, but even with those things, I’m still responsible for some of it, certainly for my attitude about it.

Even though I don’t feel it, I know my youth is slipping away. I hope on the day that I wake up and feel old, that I still know what to do to move  forward.

Fade to Grey...

Fade to Grey…

Road Notes: Back in a Hurry


Just flaunting Husker pride!

Last week, I went on a maddening, four-day circle through Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, and back to Iowa, revisiting all the soybean fields I had already been to. It had all typical aspects of a Derek Johnson-road trip: receiving field information right when arrived at the field itself, figuring out my route on the fly, lunches at Subway, dinners after 7 P.M., and pick-me-up lattes whenever a Starbucks fell out of the sky. It was so crazy that I didn’t share the blog post I uploaded on Tuesday morning in my Waupun, Wisconsin hotel until Thursday afternoon in the Washington, Iowa, public library. Most of the routes I’ve driven on before and have written about in detail, so I will simply share some of the highlights and lessons.

I made a valuable life-adjustment: I went to bed before 10:30 each night, the benefit of dumping my Netflix subscription and of not justifying an extra hour of cable I didn’t get at home. I can see how valuable that extra hour is during the day; that hour I would have spent watching TV was putting to better use, even if I just watched more TV. I am trying to adjust my life at home to the same schedule.


The Wisconsin River east of Bridgeport

I met the dairy farmer who does our test plots near Spring Green plots on the banks of the Wisconsin River. (For Husker fans, it is five miles downriver from where Nebraska AD Shawn Eichorst grew up in Lone Rock.) Jim also raises corn and potatoes. I asked him if anyone in the area raises cranberries, a crop which requires field flooding, but he said no, the geography isn’t conducive to it, although he never has water issues himself. (More cranberries are raised north of Spring Green, up by Tomah.)

Good ear? I think so.

Good ear? I think so.

I’m more cautious of the speed limit in Illinois than in any other state because of the ticket I received in Peoria last year. When I crossed the Wisconsin-Illinois border on I-39, I passed two speed patrols in the space of about twenty-five miles. Still chasing that out-of-state dollar. At least they must be generating some revenue with the road renovations in the southern part of the state.

Tuesday night, I stayed in El Paso, Illinois, and dinner at Monical’s Pizza just of I-39. It was a nostalgia place with all this stuff on the wall from the 1940’s and ’50’s, and even though the pasta dish was generic and the sauce cheap, I enjoyed it because it’s not something I make for myself. It felt a bit bizarre observing the teenagers working there, thinking back to time working for Valentino’s. I couldn’t help but wonder how many of them were dying to get out of El Paso.

I realized why Subway has the most locations of any restaurant in the United States: you can put one in a strip mall and don’t need to build a stand-alone building, you don’t need a fryer, and you need three or four employees to run one. Genius business.

Wednesday night, I could have received 20% off dinner if ate at the Iron Skillet off the Kingdom City, Missouri exit, but I didn’t because I worry truck stop food will upset my stomach. Okay, it’s because I’m too good for truck stops, but either way, I ate at Panhead’s, a Mizzou Tigers tavern. I’m such a snob, but at least I had a good pork barbecue.

I saw an Iowa State Cyclones flag on Iowa Highway 92 between Washington and Signourney. As I tweeted out on Thursday night, it was the first time that I had seen ISU house decoration closer to Iowa City than Ames. The ‘Hawks are trending down.

Little flower...

Little flower…

My biggest disappointment was that I didn’t patronize a local coffeehouse. I passed one in southwest Illinois in some town on Illinois Highway 16; it even had an used bookstore. But I didn’t stop, and on Thursday, I was too exhausted to even consider hitting up the coffeehouse in Washington, Iowa.

I was so exhausted on Thursday because I had been battling allergies the entire trip and had to pull off US Highway 24 by Mark Twain Lake in Missouri because my eyes had become so watery. The corn pollen, plus the weed pollen, proved to be too much.

Thursday afternoon, I burned through a stockpile of PTI podcast from July while I used minor highways to get from Peoria, Iowa to the I-80, then enjoyed the sight of rush hour traffic going the other way while I bolted to Ames. That night, I crushed a Culver’s chicken dinner while watching the NFL preseason.

I didn’t write anything down while I was driving, only because I wanted to see how things collected in my mind. Actually, I was forcing myself to take a break, although I should have worked on some of Husker writing. Now that weekly Husker writing is coming up, I need to find the right balance between writing and reading. And editing what I already have written.



Girl Across the Ocean

(Note: While the Coffee House is a real place in Lincoln, the people in this article are fictional.)

A slight movement in the corner of my eye caused me to look up from the Twitter feed I was thumbing through on my Kindle Fire. It was roughly three in the afternoon, and the Coffee House was buzzing with those who took life slow. I loved to come here and loose myself, but now my eyes darted to the girl who had just sat down at a table by the door, right across the room from me.

This was a girl who I would talk to. Her hair was dirty blonde, her figure slim. She carried a ratty denim shoulder sack as purse, out of which she removed a book I had read two years ago. She sipped warm milk off the top of her drink, and put her eyes to the book as if she were concentrating, but after two minutes she glanced up. She wore black horned-rim glasses, a purple-and-yellow knitted hat, and a faded green jacket over a white button-down shirt and faded jeans. An outfit that would have stuck out on the street, it blended her in here in the dark Coffee House.

I could have easily approached her to talk about the book, as I remembered it well. But my body flinched at the thought of saying to her,  “Hey, you know I read that when I was on this flight to Denver two years ago, and I thought it was really good.” Those thudding words would not give her any place to go with the conversation. I’d have to add, “Why did you choose to read it? What page are you? What do you think of such-and-such a character?” So many questions that could be answered so quickly, and I might overwhelm her. She may not even want to talk.

I tapped on an article in my feed and glanced back up. Not at the girl, of course, because that would be considered staring, but at the top corner of the doorway. This was a technique that I had perfected when looking at girls, glancing at a spot diagonally above her, so I could kind of look at the girl but not really be looking at her.

Okay now, I thought to myself. I have to get refocused if I’m going to talk to her. What are my answers to the questions I would ask her? I liked the book because it was so sad without being sentimental and used simple language while still being profound. I choose the book because of its bright cover and because it was on sale at the thrift store that I go to every week. My favorite character was Melvin the bumbling sidekick.

Returning my eyes to my Kindle screen, I tried to concentrate on the article. After all, reading is what people come here to do. Or did they just come here to look smart when they are reading because nobody reads any more? I had actually found that it was easier to read at home than here, which is why only read articles here anymore and not books. Should I talk to the girl about that? No, it would be presumptuous of her, that she only came here to read to look smart. Maybe she had roommates at home, and here was the only place she could go for something that resembled quite.

I glanced back the top corner of the door. She had turned another page. I should wait. Yes, wait, and let her get engrossed in the book, and then she will want to talk about it more. But if she got engrossed in the book, then she might be less amenable to taking a break from it to talk to a man she didn’t know from Adam. What should I do? Was I better off just waiting here, or should I go ahead and just try to talk to her? She seemed settled into her chair, and she had only taken two sips of her drink, so she’d likely be here a while.

But what if waiting to talk to her makes me seem like a creepy stalker? I glanced out the window, bristling at the thought. That was the last thing I wanted, to walk up to this girl in my awkward manner and have her think that I am some sort of coward, sitting over here watching her, waiting until I could work up enough courage to talk to her. How embarrassing.

What did it matter if I talked to this girl or not? I was here to get caught up on my own reading. Yes, I was interested in meeting people , but that was secondary. What did it matter if I passed on a conversation with this average girl? She looked nice, sure, but what is the guarantee that she really is just here to read her book and wouldn’t welcome conversation from a stranger?

I glanced up at the girl again and saw her to be perfect just as she was sitting there. How could I talk to her and mess that up?

Brewtopia in Bay City

The Spot…

Seward Nooks: Twists and Turns.


Fairgrounds Border…


Waiting Game…

Hughes Brothers forms the east border of the fairground on the opposite side of the highway. It must be one of Seward’s biggest employers, but I’ve only known one or two people who have worked for them. In fact, I don’t even know exactly what it is they do there, although I do see a lot of their guys milling around the factory entrance whenever I drive by it on Seward Street.


Levee Road…

This road leads out of the Fairgrounds and turns into Lincoln Street, rolling along the levee-top without a care in the world, steep slope falling on both sides of the levee. I drive this road worrying about my safety if some teenager or know-it-all with an over-sized pickup comes barreling from the opposing direction, all jazzed up with a case of beer in the front seat.


Old Folks Home…

Lincoln Street leads out to the Senior Citizens Center, home to potato bake lunches, and other shows for the elderly. (Side note-a couple I knew actually met at a lunch here.) It’s the ideal place to preserve retirement savings, complete with off-color yellow walls, small windows right next to each other, a pop-out from ’50-’60’s mass construction. Of course, the dazzling new building in the background is putting a cramp in the retro-, live frugal style, but anything to attract new business to our spend-lite state.



In keeping with the neighborhood’s shabby-no-sheek theme, this complex of cheap apartment buildings lies catty corner to southeast from the Senior Center Complex. It was the perfect shade of cracked white until a couple of years ago, when someone had the bright idea to paint the buildings tan. Talk about building yourself out of the neighborhood.Now it looks like a 1980’s-built prison in a desert town, or a filming site for a cheap horror movie. Hope you got a tax write off for that.


Red Brick Road….

This is Eighth, a brick street that is way too narrow to service the amount of traffic it gets. Even worse than that, it has hills. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been driving down this road, bumpty-bump-bump, hoping that another car doesn’t turn onto the street in front of me. They shouldn’t let people park on either side of this street.

How Much Traveled?

How Much Traveled?

There is a small housing development that is an U-shape of three blocks just off of Hillcrest on Tenth street, which is what should have been done with the Augusta Drive project. This foot bridge crosses a drainage ditch, to a path that leads down to the senior center. It’s a great idea, so at least the people who live on these street don’t have to walk on the busy Hillcrest street, even if there’s just an empty field and no walking trails on the other side.

Many tenants...

Many tenants…

When I was growing up, I was in this place many times when it was the Evangelical Free Church, for youth group and various homeschool functions. Since then, E-Free has moved to a big box location that used to be Wal-Mart, and two Lutheran churches have occupied this space. It never made sense to me why E-Free left after all the money they had to put into two additions, but I guess they are happy in their new location, and the old location is still used.

Once in high school, I nearly ended up in the ditch right there in the spot by the fire hydrant. I was seventeen and had not yet learned how to scrape my windshield when it snowed.

Put her up...

Put her up…

Wish they would have put that hope in when I was in high school. (More Seward Stories…)

Knocking Compulsion

I have personal flaws. I overestimate my physical strength. I’m too modest to ask for help. I’m not as driven as I should be. I take things too personally. I’m not great at details or planning. And I can be prone to compulsive behavior, which is why I ended up binge-watching Breaking Bad. A few weeks and twenty-something dark episodes later, I was on the verge of stashing my kindle at the office because I was on pins and needles.

My Netflix subscription was just sitting there since I finished the new episodes of Arrested Development. I’ve kept the subscription rather than get actual cable installed, even though I didn’t have a lot of shows to catch up on. But eventually, I watched an episode of Breaking Bad, speeding through slow parts at first. BB substituted for 24 in my need for serial TV, each episode and even each season picking up where the prior episode or season leaves off. 

I got off-center when I got into this manner. I quit listening to my string of Issues, Etc. podcasts and my sports radio. And BB‘s worldview didn’t exactly help my mindset, either. Thankfully, the Netflix app quit working on my Kindle, slowing my intake.

Binge-watching on Netflix is so easy, and done without so much as a second thought. No commercials, no waiting for next week episodes. I have a pile of podcasts I haven’t even listened to, and yet, days melt away while I get through another six episodes. No wonder I can’t think of anything to write. How much more American productivity can Netflix and video streaming services eat?

Am I this ungrateful for what God has given me? Forgive me, oh Lord.

Eau Claire, Wisconsin...Has nothing to do with this post, but it looks nice.

Eau Claire, Wisconsin…Has nothing to do with this post, but it looks nice.

August Daze and Winds of Change


Seward Square…

The turning of the calendar to August marked the three month anniversary of my move into my new home. Three months is a season, so a new chapter has been written and something has changed in my head. I can’t wait to find out what that is.

Walking around my new neighborhood is different because of the heat and the trails don’t feel as wide open. Instead, I walk down to the square and sit read or just watch for people. I’m surprised more people aren’t around the square in the evening, but I suppose if there were more people there, I wouldn’t feel like sitting there and reading.

I always enjoy seeing children and young people hanging out and playing around the square, or on the street outside my house. I wonder if the teenagers are dying to get out of this cracker-jack town like I was when I was their age. (Hope their plans for that go better than mine did.) Sitting out there watching the kids from a bench I wonder to myself if I would have been better off leaving this place.

I had grand plans for leaving this place in high school. I didn’t talk about them with most people but simply went on thinking that I would find a new place to call home, because I knew in my heart this wasn’t my home. I still don’t feel like Seward is my home, even if all visual evidence speaks to the contrary.

Even recently, I still feel inside that God is calling me to leave Seward. I’ve seen evidence to that in the last year, but no path has come together, and given my history, I feel I shouldn’t leave this town without certain things in place. But God is still telling me that He has plans for me elsewhere in this world. Maybe I’m just coming up with this stuff as a way to blame my problems on circumstances. Even if I leave this town, I’m still the same person with the same problems, and I can’t expect everything to magically change. But maybe if I don’t expect everything to change, I will make the most of a move…, oh forget it, I’m reasoning this all out.

Road Downtown...

Road Downtown…

Writing has not come as easily this summer. Maybe I have not been putting as many good things into my head, maybe I need more meaningful interactions and clear some things off my schedule. I do spend more time into editing, to see that the hours invested writing projects don’t go to waste. but I can see things in my past that I left unresolved. At the time, it was the easiest thing in the world not to do anything about certain things, but they have caught up to me now. It’s time to take action.

Breaking Bad and the Human Flaw

Two week, I started watching Breaking Bad on Netflix (hey, my subscription’s just sitting there.. I had only had a perfunctory interest in Malcolm in the Meth Lab because it was on the same network as The Walking Dead. The 8 minute episode recap I saw drained me; I could only imagine how much moral weight a full episode, much less a 13-episode season contained. But the show’s blending of a liberal and a conservative understandings of evil intrigued me. 

BB is partially typical liberal satire on middle America, and a liberal understanding that evil is created by one’s circumstances. The conservative dopes in the sticks want to judge us, says Hollywood? A mega-villain can just pop out of the cul-de-sac in average-joe-New Mexico if he gets cacer. But what makes the show great is a conservative understanding evil. Creator Vince Gilligan admitted that one of best decisions he and his writers made early in the series was to make Walt driven by blinding pride, so much so that he cannot accept help from others to pay for his cancer treatments (see the video below). Otherwise, according to Gilligan, it would have just been clumsy Dr. Tim Whately, bumbling to hold on to his drug money. In spite of this, BB was in fact fifteenth on a 2010 list of favorite shows of democrats, mainly because its most dominant theme is perversity-in-the-suburbs. (No doubt, many democrats also watched BB because of AMC’s other hit show, Mad Men, which was democrats second favorite show and their top scripted show.)

It is fascinating to consider the corruption of a man who says to his partner in crime, “Do you believe that there’s a hell? We’re pretty much going there.” The way Walt charges toward the blackness in front of him just shows how much nihilism has taken over American culture. We run toward judgment and indulge in pain, even if we admit what the consequences will be.

Seward Nooks: Empty Fairgrounds

Sign in

Sign in

My indifference towards this weekend’s Seward County Fair stems from my lack of children, or from having been out of 4-H for thirteen-some years. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll go enjoy the crowd tonight, but I am loosing a favorite walking/quiet time spots for a few days. To show the area as I know it best, I have assembled these photos of the fairgrounds without people, as it is most of the year.



If the Seward County Fair was the Wild West, this would be Front Street. Instead, it’s just food and hot tub-vendor alley. There are some good funnel cakes and stuff, but fair food is geared solely geared toward helping feed kids’ sugary desires and helping adults gain back those ten pounds they’ve lost since Christmas. During the year, it looks musty and worn, but the summer heat sells the food.

The Old House...

The Old Spot…

When I was in 4-H, I spent a lot of time in here working the food stand, all proceeds going to our local clubs. I remember getting there at 9 in the morning, straddlers roaming around, probably having no idea that we had cinnamon rolls to go with burgers and hot dogs we always sold. Th short distance between the food stand and the sheep and hogs that were being paraded around must have driven our sales down. At least I hope it did.

Big Kahuna

Big Kahuna…

Oh, the Ag Pavilion, where I brought my 4-H projects and served as host in the 4-H exhibit room. All the big booths for the important businesses and the stage for all of the big, big acts were under the giant aluminium roof. The silver metal walls gleamed in on all the joyful patrons with a bountiful grin, making it the gem of the grounds. Until they built….

The New Kid in Town...

The New Kid in Town.

I don’t remember the exact year that Harvest Hall was built, only that it was after I graduated college in 2005. All the wedding receptions are held over there now, even if it’s just “the new Ag Pavilion”. The original Ag Pavilion itself does feel less crowded during the fair, but I can’t remember a single exhibit from the one time I strolled through the Hall during the fair. I know its outside walls of this corporate barn better than the inside.

Park it Here

Park it Here

This is where I go when I come to the fairgrounds when there’s no fair. I’ve consumed one too many Runza or Amigos meals sitting under this tree, casting the empty brown bags into the green trash can, walking the grounds to unwind afterward.



The fairgrounds are my walking trail when I’m bored with my other walking trail. It’s a makeshift footpath that goes in too many circles, but at least I can get 45 solid minutes of walk-time in without passing the same place twice. I go by the cattle sheds, the metal buildings, the stand beneath which the Demolition Derby is held. It’s not a journey like Seward’s actual trail, it’s just a bunch of loops.



That is what the ditch by the creek looks like in winter. The tire trends of maintenance cars filed with mud slushee require that I wear my winter boots to walk. The tall grass has turned to yellow straw, the long winter sky stretching on above.



This bend in the Big Blue River is a good thirty yards away from the main fairgrounds, rough waters playing freely without interference. As one can see, the river did freeze partially at this time. I like walking to this spot, even it is right next to the dumping grounds.

Lazy Lake...

Lazy Lake…

But this weekend, there will not be any frozen water, except for ice to make snow cones and keep a lot of drinks cold. I’ll go, hope to see an old acquaintance I haven’t seen in a while, and maybe grab a funnel cake. Oh by the way, I’m probably going to kick it in Omaha on Saturday morning.


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